TABOR could be in hands of voters

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— Voters -- not government officials -- have the best chance of changing the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, a policy advisor told elected officials Tuesday night.

The Bell Policy Center's Carol Hedges said TABOR has helped create the perfect storm for Colorado's budget crisis and the best chance of changing it will come from the bottom.

City Council members, county commissioners, local school board members and Oak Creek and Hayden representatives all attended the presentation of the center's study on the impact of TABOR over the last 10 years.

Instead of a change coming from an amendment to the constitution by the Colorado Legislature, Hedges said it needs to come from residents who want to see the tax law changed.

TABOR was enacted in 1992 to restrict growth in the state revenue to inflation plus the percentage in population the previous year. Under the law, spending can only increase by 6 percent from the year before.

It requires voter approval for new taxes, tax-rate increases and mill levies. The law also prohibits new real estate transaction taxes, local income taxes and state property taxes.

Hedges said that while TABOR was created to protect taxpayers, it has created a train wreck at the state level. Because of the law, services have not been able to keep pace with growth, budget cuts in economic downturns become permanent, budgeting options are taken away and governments cannot save or plan for the future.

Polls indicate people are strongly in favor of TABOR because of claims it gives taxpayers a voice in how much they are taxed and limits the government's growth, Hedges said.

"But that is not really what we got with TABOR," Hedges said. "We got a whole bunch more than that."

The Bell Policy, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, wants to refine the principals of TABOR, she said.

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said Routt County voters did not approve TABOR when the state passed it 10 years ago, and TABOR conversations continue here.

"I don't think the state Legislature as a whole is going to get the message. I think we are going to have to figure out with our own population how to solve that issue," Stahoviak said.

TABOR's impact on the budget at the state level has been passed on to the county through its mental health and Medicaid programs, Stahoviak said.

Sue Birch, director of the Visiting Nurse Association, said state budget cuts mean immunizations have decreased, services to seniors have gone down and 30 percent of their work force has been laid off or not replaced.

Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner also pointed out that the government budget cuts can be felt at the local court system and reduced hours in Steamboat's driver license office.

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